(photo by https://unsplash.com/photos/HOtPD7Z_74s)
What’s the most important thing you do at work?
Most of us, when asked “how do you create job security”, default to explaining a way of interacting with others that only we can do. If you have unique skills, of course you would want to create a solution where you can solve the problem. It’s romantic to think that you – the cowboy or cowgirl – can race into the important situation and solve the problem where no one else can, or do it faster than anyone else.
Described differently, “I am the only one who can get it done on time and under budget” also looks a lot like “I am a bottleneck”, or “my company is now vulnerable to the ‘Bus Problem’, where if I get hit by a bus my company will have absolutely no way to do the things I know how to do. These statements now look a bit different.
A Corollary To What You Do Today
But what if creating personal job security looked completely different and had more to do with creating systems everywhere you go that help everyone else in the company raise their game? In this version of the bus problem, maybe the solution is to make bus schedules (so that all buses run on time), and develop contingency plans (like snow routes) for what happens when there is inclement weather or other unexpected behavior like traffic?
The best way to solve the problem of institutional knowledge sharing is to share that knowledge. Duh. But it means more than simply barfing out that information in whatever messaging suite happens to be the flavor of the month. True knowledge sharing means that you can isolate the facts and share the strategy implications of changing course, that you can write a procedure anyone in your company can follow, and that if you are not in the office the process works without you there.
What does this look like in practice?
Let’s say for the moment that you are responsible for updating the team on a new feature in your product. As a consumer of that information inside of the company, each person in each role needs something different. Sales might need to know if the price of that product changes or if specific customers had been waiting for it. Marketing might need to know if there are marketable features that could be shared with a wide audience. Engineers might want to know if there are new things to test and build. And Customer Support needs to know the typical things customers will ask and how to solve their problems.
Compare your original goal of becoming the only one who can solve a critical problem with the goal of sharing information with everyone in the company at the right time to ensure a productive product release. If you don’t create systems that ensure people on your team know what they need to know before you can tell it to them, you will fail. Your participation in the process should be the reinforcement of the knowledge, rather than the only way they know that information.
Start today by writing down an important thing that no one knows into instructions that person can follow, and then take the day off. Train a trusted resource, take the day off, and see how things went. If you get to “One in a Row” on this problem, you’re ready to tackle the next critical business process you own until the whole business can run without you telling them which buses run next on the schedule.
I mean the kind of team that people and alumni talk about years later. I’m talking about a team that produces results, leads the market, and is the kind of team that spawns other great teams. It’s hard to produce these kinds of results once, so it’s all the more remarkable when the same team produces another high-performing team (and highly correlated to success in the new venture)
In my career, I have been on great teams, and also participated in not-so-great teams.
Here are a few things that great teams do that mediocre teams do not do:
Great Teams Focus Their Efforts
In a startup (or really inside any company) there is always too much to do and almost always not enough time and resources to do it. Great teams build a culture where people focus on the next best thing they can do to improve the company, and make it easy for people to work together to gain results. For example, when you cut a lightly used feature and take the time to improve an existing feature, you are lowering the surface area of your product and helping the whole team to feel better about the quality of your software.
Mediocre teams work on many projects at once and never ship. On these teams, someone always claims credit for doing the work instead of giving kudos to another team member to congratulate them on a job well done. Mediocre teams endlessly add features without taking the time to ask customers whether the existing features meet their needs.
Great Teams Identify and Amplify Team Strengths
On a great team, it’s easy to find specialists. They are busy doing what they do best – not struggling at tasks they do the worst – and producing strong results. Some of the specialists have a specialty of getting other people to make decisions, push themselves to do new things, or to reduce the overall quantity of work to produce higher quality work. Great teams form around individuals who have strengths the whole team can use. These teams ask “how can I help?” to each other rather than saying “I’m too busy – can you ask someone else?”
On a mediocre team, it’s hard to determine what anyone does well, because everyone is meeting with each other in the same meetings. There is no time for work during the work day, because no one comes prepared to discuss items at meetings, and people spend the meeting time multitasking and doing the work they could not complete in their previous meetings. Mediocre teams leach away the strength of their individual specialists by creating an environment where no one knows how to make a decision and where no one feels empowered to ask for that decision.
Great Teams Are Resilient
Having a great team does not isolate you from conflict. Great teams are effective at meeting conflict head-on, discussing the problem, finding a solution, and then moving forward either by “disagreeing and committing” or by genuine consensus. These teams are resilient because during times of trouble team members lean on each other’s strengths and find solutions to seemingly intractable problems.
Mediocre teams fall apart or descend into chaos during stressful situations. There are few things more disappointing than thinking you’re on a great team, encountering a stressful situation, and then realizing your team is rather mediocre. Instead of the support you get from a great team, on a mediocre team it ends up being every person for themselves.
Great teams are hard to find.
I recently joined the team at Kustomer because this is a great team solving a hard problem in an important market – CRM for support customers – and I wanted to be part of that effort. So far, working at Kustomer feels similar to the atmosphere I shared with some of the team members when we worked together at Assistly. We work hard, we play hard, and we are building a business centered on our customers. But what makes a team great?
Great teams sometimes form by themselves and sometimes are made. People know a great team when they experience it. Great teams do not last forever, because culture is hard. When you get the band back together, it doesn’t always work. But when it does, it’s amazing.
Kustomer is a great team. We are crushing it. That doesn’t mean we’re always right – it means we are going after a great market with proven technology expertise, deep domain expertise, and a kick-ass attitude.
You’ve been there. A customer asks for a thing they consider to be an easy ask and it’s not in the current product. It might actually be easy or it might be quite hard – you don’t know yet (and you have a sneaking suspicion for one or the other).
You could say “no, not ever”, or “not yet”, or “absolutely – we’ll do it for you” – there are lots of ways to solve the request side of this equation. Those solutions, however, are intimately linked to the way you go about developing your product features.
Committing to building a feature – whether it’s something you intended on building anyway or whether it’s a brand new request that fits into that strategy – requires you to define a Minimum Viable Feature. This description should contain a statement of the problem you’re trying to solve, specifically the Job to Be Done, who the feature serves, and the potential impact created by the feature. Your definition also has to be built in the context of the existing technical capability and business direction of the product.
A Minimum Viable Feature is not just the lowest common denominator of the thing the customer wants you to do and the way you want to do it. It is a carefully considered construction that delivers the job the customer wants to accomplish while laying the groundwork for how similar customers might also want to use that capability in the future. If you put your Future You hat on, you might say that the best feature design helps anticipate and address the future challenges you’ll have while not making people wait until you get there to get 80% of the benefit.
Let’s say you were building an app that let customers tell you about a home improvement problem and you wanted to get as much detail as possible from them so you could accurately estimate the issue. The simplest solution? Ask them to tell you about the scope of the problem, and perhaps take a picture of their leaky sink. The most complicated solution? Take a video of the sink and automatically diagnose the problem. The Minimum Viable Feature version of this might be a highly targeted survey that walks you through the most common problem areas of a specific home improvement area and then instructs you how to take the most helpful video or picture of a specific area to get the maximum input for your effort.
Your version of the Minimum Viable Feature will differ – but the key is to deliver enough functionality and fidelity to the job the customer wants done while building a path to the future of this feature. The more often you do this and the more specific you are about the customer, the benefit, and the way you’ll know if you’ve succeeded or failed, the closer you’ll get to that ideal.
A prospective customer may have only 30 to 60 seconds to understand your Unique Selling Proposition. When you’re not right there with the customer, one of the best ways to share the benefit of your product is a brief and effective “Explainer Video”. You’ve seen them – they are the 2-4 minute video clips that accompany almost any product these days. Depending upon your budget, the time available, and your level of effort, it’s easy to spend lots of money building an explainer video and not end up with much in return. The goal is to create a “good-enough” explainer video for a minimum amount of money that won’t embarrass you or your company and will give you a good template for future action.
Creating an effective piece of content requires some time and effort, but it’s not that hard to start. I created an explainer video for creating explainer videos (how meta) to demonstrate the process and have eight tips to get you ready for “lights, camera, ACTION!”
Tip 1: Write a Script.
It’s easy to come up with words on the fly, and they sound even better when you took a few minutes to write them down. To get the right level of detail, think of your script either as talking points or as a word-for-word reading that you can record and re-record until you get it right. The basics that you’ll want to follow are as follows:
What will happen in the video – what’s the big idea that you’re trying to convey? Usually this is a bite-sized concept that someone can understand in two to five minutes.
What you will say – what idea are you trying to convey right now? Demonstrating a portion of the screen or an easy-to-use idea makes more sense if you don’t just read your script or your slide.
What you will demonstrate – show, don’t tell to get the maximum impact.You may need to show something more than once to get the viewer’s attention and to communicate what you mean. As a teacher friend of mine says, “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, Tell them, and then Tell them what you told them.” It’s a good model for planning your teaching approach.
Practice each of these until you have a relatively smooth delivery. Some explainer sections may come together in a single take, while others require a bit of editing to get right.
Tip 2: Create a Motion Graphic Intro or Exit.
Video walkthroughs always look more professional when they have a snappy introduction and exit. Perhaps this is because we are all conditioned on 15- and 30-second commercials, and it remains that the intro is a worthwhile investment of your time. You can use iMovie or ScreenFlow (as I did in the overview above) or you can use a service like GetMoovd to build a 5-10 second introduction. The key here is to end up with something that looks and sounds professional – that look and feel lends credibility.
Note: if you’re not good at this part, this is an excellent item to outsource. Whether you use oDesk, 99Designs, or some other source, getting a freelancer to create an intro clip is much cheaper than hiring a designer to build the entire explainer video for you.
Tip 3: Buy a Decent Microphone.
The first thing that many people recognize about a video (paradoxically, it seems) is how it sounds. The better a piece sounds, the higher the quality bar to the listener. You may not be a professional sound engineer, and there are a few things to do and make an immediate impact on the results.
First, use a real microphone, not just your iPhone earbuds. I recommend the Blue Snowball – it’s a USB mic and works well to eliminate a lot of the typical background noise you might here (clicks, etc). I also found that investing in a $5 microphone shield made it easier for me to avoid some of the vocal “pops” I’ve heard before when I try to record.
The Snowball has a standard microphone mount so it will also fit on a stand if you’d like to go “professional”. If you don’t want to spend $50 on a microphone, you can probably get away with a $25 headset that has a noise canceling boom microphone.
The Blue Snowball is a great choice for getting started however, and also makes you feel just a little bit like a newscaster or a Rock Star while you’re laying down your lines.
Tip 4: Spend $99 on Screen Capture Software
Once your audio sounds good, you’ll also need to make some improvements on the video side. Creating videos with solid, consistent transitions and unobtrusive titles is also a great investment toward the goal of winning customer trust and time.
ScreenFlow is the best screen recorder you will find for the Mac. I’ve used Camtasia, Premiere, iMovie, and Flash. This one makes it really easy to record the screen (even allowing you to record the ScreenFlow software itself or record output on an iPad or iPhone.
Adding transitions, editing sound, and fitting things together is really easy. When you’re ready to publish, ScreenFlow also connects directly to popular video hosting sites like YouTube or Wistia. In short, this is money well spent and the investment (a small one, really) is worth your time and money.
Tip 5: Take the time to Smooth the Vocals
Now that you’ve invested in a microphone and the screen recording software, make sure you invest a little time in making the audio sound better as well. You can use software like Audacity or GarageBand if you want to do some serious processing, and I’d recommend just using the tools in ScreenFlow. Simply lower the background audio, smooth the volume levels, add a small amount of vocal effect, and remove background hiss and the vocals will sound much better.
A note of caution – it sounds like a great idea to filter the vocals with a fancy filter. It never comes out sounding like you want, so just a touch of filter is probably a better idea.
Your goal is to bring the vocals out of the background and make sure that they sound consistent – not to have the listener be surprised by an overloaded vocal.
Tip 6: Add Callouts to your Video
Professional explainer videos help you to know where to look in each segment of the video. This might take the form of a low-key “lower-third” caption on the screen, an animated callout to accompany a multi-step procedure, or other styles of getting the customer’s attention.
Good callouts are:
Not necessarily a repetition of an audio track
Limited in the number of words – they are not a book – and help to bridge gaps in audio or video
Linked to the “Big Idea”
Bad callouts have these characteristics:
Take too long to read
Distract the viewer
Leave more questions than answers
Building callouts is easier said than done. One good method of determining whether you have the right level of instruction is to show the video to testers when it’s partway finished and ask them for feedback. If they ask for callouts, it’s a good sign that the script needs to be refined or that callouts are needed.
Tip 7: Create Standard Transitions
In addition to callouts, you’ll need standard transitions between sections to help the viewer know what’s happening next. These provide a visual and mental break for the viewer. You might think of using a “Lower Third” technique, e.g.
A simple treatment catches your eye. Use Bold to set off parts of your text or italic to emphasize a point. And try not to do too much. Transitions should show up gracefully, add meaningful value, and then disappear. If they become the focal point, you said too much with the graphic.
Tip 8: Add some background music
Last and certainly not least, the tone of the background music sets the mood for the video. Consider adding a backing track to your video at a very low volume level, in addition to whatever main music you will be adding. Whether you create a simple loop that adds a sound texture or do something more elaborate, building sound layers will make your explainer video sound more professional and interesting.
Every app and every web site has notifications. Whether they are push notifications, email notifications, phone call notifications, voice mail notifications, in-app notifications, or smoke signals, you are competing for a valuable and scarce commodity: the customer’s undivided attention. There are too many notifications to pay attention to, even if you just dip your toe in the information river now and then.
It must be a problem for a lot of people these days, judging from the number of retweets and favorites on a single Saturday afternoon tweet. Yes, you can turn off all notifications for an app or a service in the operating system of the phone, and this is a solution that may just leave the app unused. Surely there must be a middle ground.
So how can you make your message the one that the customer reads?
B.J. Fogg, a Stanford Professor, suggests that “three elements must converge at the same moment for a behavior to occur: Motivation, Ability, and Trigger. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements is missing.” (read more about it here).
The results of motivation are obvious – if someone wants to respond to your notification, they will. You can see the positive result almost immediately. Teasing out the reasons for the negative or null result is a bit more challenging. Did the customer see your message and ignore it? Did the customer never see your message? Did the mean to respond and forget? There are many reasons why this outcome might occur, so the next “why didn’t it happen” focuses on ability.
Does the customer know what to do? An extreme view suggests that notifications as a method are an anti-pattern – that is, they are a mechanism that contributes directly to the customer being unable to focus. When the notification happens so often that it becomes background noise, it’s hard to know what’s an “important” notification and the easy thing to do is to just ignore all of them.
If the customer knows what to do, why don’t they do it? They might not have the ability. The notification might make sense to the designer or the programmer who knows the intended behavior of the feature and the customer might not have the same mindset. Or there might be a bug in the system. Either way, when the customer encounters the notification, if things don’t happen right the first time their motivation will suffer, they may question their ability to complete the task, or they may more likely just say “that’s broken.”
And every time there is a “that’s broken” moment the effectiveness of the trigger declines – the reason you wanted the customer to interact in the first place – and you have to have a “one in a row” moment before the customer trusts that the notification is worth responding to in the first place. A great way to save a “that’s broken” moment is to understand when it happens (ideally before the customer does) and reach out and let them know you’re working to fix it.
As for the problem of too many notifications and overall cognitive overload? There is no way to control what’s going on in someone’s phone or in someone’s head. Giving the customer a pressure relief valve like “mark all notifications read” is one way to alleviate the problem before there is a fine-grained solution. Designers might say that adding such a feature is a mark of failure, and readers on Twitter who clearly deal with this problem frequently in apps might just say, “thank you, app developer.”